There is kind of a death march to come into the Finals, to watch other teams disappear. We’re still standing here with only one other team left, a good team, and we’re anticipating a really good final.
(Did you watch the game last night?)
(What did you learn about Orlando that you didn’t know previously?)
Well, you know, I think you saw all the things Orlando can do in last night’s game. They have a post-up game – obviously, there was more emphasis in that than most of the games because Varejao got in foul trouble early and they had their way pretty much with Cleveland because of that. But you saw their 3-point shooting and their ability to do a lot of things offensively.
(Haven’t played them since January. Besides obviously Nelson and the Rafer Alston trade, how have they changed since then?)
Well, you know, I think there’s kind of another chemistry fit they had to get with Rafer Alston on that team. It’s a different match than Jameer – Jameer has a different style of play – but they refitted again and they came back and played really great the last month, and they’ve had an interesting playoffs – it’s been challenging at times – but a good playoffs.
(Match up favorably with their front court?)
Yeah. We are a long team. We have lengthy defenders to deal with Turkoglu and Lewis. But I don’t know who can guard this big kid if he’s as physical as he is. Howard’s just a real, real powerhouse in there inside.
(regular season, you didn’t double Howard off the bat on most possessions. Do you think you’ll stick with that?)
It’s to your advantage not to double against this team. They have four 3-point shooters arrayed around the corners of the court, and they really spread you out. Their spacing is good, so it puts a lot of priority on being able to defend in the post.
(Best outside shooting team in the league?)
They’re up there. They’re going to threaten you with that. But really, it’s their inside game that you have to worry about.
(Do you go small with Odom to counteract Lewis?)
You know, I think we’ll be all right with what we do. I think we’ll measure out the game. You know, one of the games Andrew was in foul trouble immediately, both in the first and the third quarters. That’s something we really don’t want to have happen. But our big lineup is going to create a problem for them.
(When you played them, you still had Vladimir. How does that change now that he’s not here?)
Welll, we send him a telegram and say, hope you’re having a good time on the beach. (laughter)
Obviously, you know, Trevor has advanced as a player a lot. He’s doing a really good job for us and it changes a little bit of what we do. We don’t have as much of what you would consider a 3-point threat, but I think Trevor’s really taken that spot well.
(Is your mindset on the distance? Do you prepare for seven games?)
You prepare for the first game and then you go from there. It’s about trying to get a leg up right off the bat so you have advantage. And as you know, the first two sets of our homestands, the last two series, we’ve lost a game and lost homecourt advantage. And that’s something you don’t want to do in the finals, with this kind of a setup, the two-three-two setup. So we really want to come out and be prepared.
(Six days off too much of a good thing?)
No, not for us. We really got banged up in this last two series, and there are a number of guys who can really use the two days off. So we’ll measure it out. We’ll be ready.
(Home court advantage?)
It’s nice to have home court advantage, but it’s still not something to rely on in this kind of a series. Orlando’s a very good road team, one of the better road teams in the league the past two years. And you have to be prepared for that. They like the challenge on the road, they play well on the road, and they beat us on our home court this year. So we understand that.
(Some talk that Jameer might try to come back for this series. How difficult for a guy like that to come back and make an impact?)_
Well, it would be difficult, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing over there. If he comes back, we’ll have to be prepared for it. He was instrumental in the victories he had against us. He certainly was.
(What about you individually, if you can get your 10th win?)
Gee, I don’t know how to answer that, Jim.
It’s about a year, and about doing this, and you know, it happened many times in my career. I’ve been fortunate in that regard. But we’re just looking at this as something to redeem last year’s loss. We know what it feels like to lose and we want to come out and amend that.
(So redemption is the motivation now?)
One of the things, yeah.
(That sense with Kobe, too?)
Well, this has been an onward march for him since the last game of the Olympics. Basically it’s been all about this. And Pau, too. He came out of the Olympis and lost that game, and immediately they’ve come right into this year and dedicated themselves to doing something that would change what we had last year.
We got there, but that’s not enough.
(Compare this team in any way to the one in 2000?)
No. There’s very little resemblance to the 2000 team and this team. That team had a lot of veterans, a lot of size, Shaq dominated teams.
This team is what it is. It’s a makeup of a lot of skilled players. We’re not a powerful team. We’re not a muscular team. But we are athletic and skilled.
(more fun or more exasperating to coach a team like this?)
This team is fun. That team was great. You know, Shaq’s always an interesting person to have on a team. He makes things fun and light. This team is a collection of talent that’s been accumulated over the last four or five years, excluding Kobe and Fish, and so it’s been a team that’s had to come together.
(Your best opportunity for another championship since O2?)
You know, I really thought the 04 team that lost to Detroit with Malone and Payton – even though we really got them into the mix quickly and they were at the end of their careers, until Karl was injured, I thought that was a team that was going to do it all, too.
(How much better is this team than last year?)
Well, I think we’re better because of the experience we had last year. Last year we played at a really high level through the playoffs, right up until the Finals. But we weren’t quite prepared for the physical nature of the game at that point, and how to make the adjustments. I think that hurt us a little bit. And also, we didn’t have home-court advantage. I think that’s an advantage for us this year.